ICOM, Research is Key to Success
ICOM North America has been leading the way as the premier world-class manufacturer of propane liquid injection systems for over 14 years. Located in New Hudson, Michigan, the company manufactures, assembles, EPA and CARB certifies, and distributes its products – including the patented ICOM JTG II Propane Liquid Injection Vehicle Systems and JTGhp Direct Propane Liquid Injection Systems – throughout North and South America. Additionally, ICOM North America works closely with its OEM partners to bring more engine platforms to the North and South American market.
But like all successful businesses, they are not without challenges.
Albert Venezio, chairman, helped to bring ICOM to the United States in 2004 and with him, came 10 years of prior global alternative fuel systems, natural gas and propane experience and relationships.
“I found that ICOM had the best propane system technology in the world with their break-through propane liquid injection technology. I decided to partner with them to bring their expertise and products to North America to help reinvigorate the propane autogas vehicle market. We successfully accomplished that feat in a big way and now virtually every OEM propane project in the US is liquid injection,” said Venezio.
Venezio and the ICOM team worked closely on an idea with industry partners, which they had previously utilized in other industries, that maybe there could be an easier, more fluid way of bringing a full fleet propane autogas solution to fleets across the country. This solution could assist propane companies in selling propane in the autogas vehicle sector and would allow these companies to utilize autogas in their own fleets.
Thus, the United Propane Autogas Solutions Group (UPAS Group) was born.
The UPAS Group is an ICOM owned company and was created to facilitate autogas utilization as a seamless and positive source of propane autogas utilization by fleets. It is comprised of approximately 60 different partners including autogas: fuel suppliers, fuel system manufacturers, vehicle manufacturers and dealers, to autogas fuel station builders, equipment suppliers, and system installation and service centers.
A great UPAS Group example organization is Industrial Propane Services in Byron, Michigan, who are a founding member of the UPAS Board, and who have been building and servicing propane trucks, bulk plants and fuel stations across the US since 1968.
ICOM identified that fleets are often seeking information on the various types of alternative fuels to help them ascertain which is best for their fleets, depending on various weight-classes and utilization of vehicles. Therefore, ICOM trained and hired salespeople whose role is to help fleets choose which alternative fuel works best for them for their specific vehicles. Often propane autogas is their best choice but many times it may be natural gas or hybrids or a combination. This process offers a seamless solution for fleets.
“By partnering with a variety of different businesses that play key roles in various parts of the alternative fuel industry, UPAS is able to give fleets a turnkey solution for their project,” said Ronny Martinez autogas fleet development specialist.
Besides UPAS, ICOM sets itself apart from other systems manufacturers by working with a wide array of vehicles and engines. Many manufacturers will stick with one or two engines, or one or two types of vehicles, but ICOM has systems for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota which covers approximately 24 different engines and expands across various countries.
With 160 dealers across North America and key distributors in Latin America, they are constantly evolving and changing to keep up with demand and innovative technology, and Clean Fuels Michigan helps to keep them on top of their game.
“To date, I think what Mike has done for us has been to bring together the right partners in Michigan who have the same vision,” Venezio said. “He’s been very successful with working together on that vision to get certain laws and incentives passed in Michigan. It’s not easy to do that.”
Clean Fuels Michigan is pleased to be able to work with ICOM North America and is looking forward to a successful partnership.
Teamwork and Collaboration – The Secret Sauce to XL Hybrid’s Success
XL Hybrids, the pioneering developer of hybrid electric and plugin hybrid-electric powertrains, was first founded in 2009 by MIT alumni. They became incorporated in 2010, and have been deploying their technology with fleets since 2012.
This company is unique because they’re not building vehicles from the ground up. Instead, they offer aftermarket upfits that can be installed on new or existing vehicles. Those upfits then turn vehicles into hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. What’s even better is that XL Hybrids works in concert with many major OEMs like Ford, General Motors and Isuzu.
“We’re able to bring the benefits of electrification to fleets while leaving the vehicles largely intact with not a lot of major modifications and with the full OEM warranty,” said Clay Siegert, XL Hybrids’ co-founder and chief operating officer.
Back in 2012, XL Hybrids’ first two customers were The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo but only on a test run basis. The XL team had to prove that the technology could not only perform, but perform well.
“Coca-Cola and Pepsi were our first two customers. They gave us a few vehicles each to convert and they said, ’OK, if your technology works, we’ll buy more’,” said Siegert.
Spoiler: their technology worked.
They had successful pilots with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and by 2013, those companies went into full production with XL’s hybrid solution and have been ordering since.
Siegert credits a portion of XL’s success to its vehicle connectivity technology, XL Link, which is included with every hybrid upfit. XL Link is a telemetry offering that helps to track performance of vehicles in the field, things like: MPG improvement, sustainability improvements, and GHG reduction, as well as XL’s hybrid components to make sure they are operating at peak performance.
“Those two things; using XL Link to provide performance reports to fleets, and being able to track our components in the field have been extremely helpful for us in growing our business, building our reputation with fleets, and building that trust factor which is so important,” he says. “We can be proactive on the customer service front when it comes to any issues in the field, and we can be value added in terms of providing information to the fleets to track a hybrid or plugin hybrid vehicle program.”
As the leading developer and provider of simple, smart, sustainable hybrid electric powertrains, it comes as no surprise that they were ranked in the top 50 of the 2014 World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company.
Siegert says, “We’ve really tried to make it a seamless process to upfit vehicles to hybrid electric and plugin hybrid electric technology.”
A big part of XL’s seamless process are its partners in ship-through upfitting. XL works with companies like Knapheide Manufacturing and Adrian Steel to have XL’s technology installed while a van is getting other upfits installed, such as ladder racks. This turn-key process provides ready-to-use fleet vehicles with little to no problems because all members of the supply chain are working together.
Siegert looks to the future with optimism stating that his goals are to expand the level of understanding and acceptance of connected electric vehicle technology, and to grow the market. Siegert says that increasing the amount of vehicle charging infrastructure in the future will help continue to increase interest in plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Clean Fuels Michigan is excited to continue to dialogue with XL Hybrids and looks forward to improving charging infrastructures for hybrid electric vehicles.